Elements to consider when practising coding with young students

Rikke Bergreen Paaskesen,
Curriculum specialist and Educational advisor
Odense, Denmark

Every teacher aims to make learning differentiated, playful and practical. Here are a few tips for how to get these elements into your coding lessons at primary school.  

Be conscious about debugging

Debugging is an important part of coding, and it delivers valuable transferable skills. It is an aspect of getting to know about syntax while troubleshooting during the coding process. Make sure your students are aware of three key behaviors in their debugging process:

  1. Recognize that something is not working as it was supposed to in their code
  2. Generate a hypothesis for what the cause of the problem might be
  3. Agree on and try out an alternative solution

Through these basic steps, students learn to troubleshoot and to solve a problem at hand – skills that they can use in many contexts.

Make pseudocode part of the process

One way to go about troubleshooting and debugging is to practice pseudocode. Pseudocode is not an actual programming language. It is an informal way of programming that does not require any strict syntax. Pseudocode is useful because it helps students think out a plan before they start coding. Even computer programmers make use of pseudocode to plan more complex code.

Students can start by writing down arrows, planning a route for their chosen actor in a given scenario. For example, place KUBO in a Library setting (using the Library map) and have the robot find a book on a bookshelf and then go to a table to read it. Students write their pseudocode when planning the route to tell KUBO to “go forward x 3, go right at the tables, go forward x1 to the bookshelf, make a u-turn, and go forward x 4 to a table”. Another task could be for students to instruct KUBO to prepare for a dance competition, like in activity 4 (see Lesson Plan 3 of KUBO Coding+). Students are given criteria, for example, how many seconds the dance should last; that they must include functions, and that the functions should include movements from KUBO’s list of movements. Students will then be scored on creativity, variation of movement, and whether they had a plan for their pseudocode.

The benefit of practicing pseudocode is that students are less afraid of their code failing, and more curious to test their draft solutions.

Sequence the story

Sequencing is essential in both mathematics and in literacy. Children practice story sequencing as a component of planning a story. Sequencing involves putting objects or actions in the correct order.     

There are lots of ways to combine storytelling with coding for a really effective learning process, and KUBO offers a variety of activities that do this. For example in the activity Super Hero Obstacle Course, KUBO is the superhero and students create a costume and an obstacle course for their robot. They must then write a story about KUBO’s adventures as a superhero while also planning and creating their code to have KUBO execute the story. You can find our Cross-curricular Activities here

Get physical, go outdoors

Identifying simple routes and routines needed to complete everyday tasks are basically algorithms. These can be mapped and made visible by drawing arrows on a blank map or a blackboard in the classroom, but even better to take the learning to the playground, where you have much more space to practice coding concepts physically while expanding the learning across other important subjects.

For example, students can become citizens of the future to learn about smart cities that have sensors placed on almost every surface. The sensors collect data about energy consumption, pollution, traffic, and rainwater. They can play robots and direct each other in a self-made city on a big grid in the playground. They can imagine how people’s behavior affects the city, and collect data. Every time a citizen throws garbage in the bin, a sensor registers the data (math and calculation). Students can then write an essay about the conditions and the development of the city. They practice math (how many steps must we take), direction (right, left) and calculation (which is the fastest route) while navigating and giving input to the one acting out the robot. They practice story sequencing and they reflect on why it is important to get the sequence right when directing robots.

Provide real world contexts of human-robot interaction

It is increasingly important to help students reflect on the consequences of choices made in the use of technology and the things that can go wrong. This helps them to learn about the application of technology as well as the ethical responsibility we share to do the right things.

Choose any profession and explore how robots have impacted that job, take a postman or a baker and have students identify which parts of their daily routines are affected by technology. Map out the routines. Discuss whether the technology in use is for better or worse.

Or explore the potential use of robots in a hospital setting. Service robots might be the ones that serve patients refreshments and meals in the future, or they may administer medicine. Discuss with students the pros and cons of robots in this context.

As our children grow up in a world dominated by technology, it is increasingly important that their understanding and relationship to technology is not purely driven by what is possible, but also by what is meaningful and good.